Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 3

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the final instalment, we wrap up the series by considering the way self-reflection informs continuous improvement and the practical strategies for creating a service culture that supports it.

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Effective and authentic quality improvement is informed by critical reflection on practice, shaped by meaningful engagement with families and communities, and is embedded across the service. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies “ongoing self-review that results in informed judgment about performance is fundamental to an effective cycle of improvement” (Guide to the National Quality Standard, p. 178).

Essential to this self-review is the Quality Improvement Plan (QIP), which should be a living document, leading up to assessment and rating and beyond. The QIP provides an opportunity to share how a service engages in deep-level reflection as part of a quality assurance process that supports the realisation of its vision as well as the objectives of the National Quality Framework.

Creating a culture of continuous improvement involves developing and sharing reflective practice, gaining different perspectives, creating a respectful culture and seeking educators, families and children’s ideas. This culture is reflected in regular engagement with quality improvement to support accountability and to communicate what services are achieving and why.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Standard 7.2 of the NQS requires services to make a commitment to continuous improvement. When we consider what this looks like in practice, it means creating regular touch points with the QIP, opportunities to regularly critically reflect on progress, and outcomes and opportunities for deeper collaboration. This level of reflective practice ensures the planning process informs decision making and provides accountability and direction, while being equitable and reflective of the diverse perspectives of all stakeholders. It also provides a springboard to celebrate achievements and communicate to all stakeholders the reasoning and purpose behind what is happening at the service.

A meaningful quality improvement planning process involves services reflecting on and assessing their performance against the NQS, as well as drawing on data or evidence gathering as a trigger for reflection. Examples might include:

  • Australian Early Development Census data to inform curriculum decision-making and resourcing priorities
  • maintenance registers – replacement of or upgrading resources
  • attendance trends and fluctuations to inform staffing
  • frequency and nature of incidents and accidents
  • workflow or staff scheduling challenges
  • regular surveys or questionnaires for families and staff about the service.

The NQS promotes an outcomes focused approach. As such, many of the elements and standards require education and care professionals to critically reflect on the decisions being made at a service level. This is an opportunity to consider questions of social justice, fairness and equity, cultural competence, acceptance and honouring diversity and inclusion, and to think through whether the ideals expressed in the service philosophy are being realised in day–to-day experiences.

A great question to prompt some deep reflective discussions at a service level is found in the approved learning frameworks (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

Who is advantaged when I work in this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Self-assessment and reflection are most worthwhile when they lead to action and it is important to record or reference progress towards the goal or even a change in focus of the original goal. Key pieces of evidence to identify decision making leading to action include:

  • linking the areas identified for improvement and the strategies to address them
  • demonstrated action reflecting the identified improvements
  • amendments to the philosophy of the service and the resultant change to policies and procedures
  • evident change in practice leading to improved outcomes for children
  • documented outcomes of the service’s self-assessment. Examples of this might include:

* meeting agenda noting the proposed discussion

* staff meeting minutes where practice is discussed

* minutes of a committee or parent meeting indicating topics      discussed and outcomes proposed

* collated survey results from children, parents or staff

* notes or drawings detailing children’s ideas, suggestions and feedback.

Education and care services should consider a holistic approach when planning for quality improvement, creating cohesion and direction by connecting all service plans together, including performance, inclusion and reconciliation, strategic and business plans. Opportunities arise here for adopting a more shared or distributed approach to leadership. For example, consider the role the educational leader plays in developing individual development plans that are in place to support performance reviews.

Questions for further reflection:

  • How is continuous improvement included in the induction process?
  • How and when is quality improvement discussed and documented?
  • How does the self-assessment process work and who contributes to the strengths of service practice?
  • How is the leadership and responsibility for QIP goals distributed?

Conclusion

We hope that we have challenged your thinking, broadened your practice and helped you to develop greater confidence in making professional judgements and articulating the reasons behind those decisions. It is important to recognise confidence emerges from drawing on professional standards, best practice, contemporary thinking and research.

Wherever you are at with your reflective practice journey, we challenge you to go deeper and consider the way critical reflection fits in with the professional learning community within your service context.

Further reading and resources

Early Childhood Australia – Critical reflection as a tool for change: Stories about quality improvement

Early Childhood Australia – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Talking about practice: Self-assessment, reflective practice and quality improvement processes

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 2

During  June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the second instalment, we consider teaching, learning and how we reflect within a holistic approach. 

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Critical reflection involves educators analysing their own practices – thinking about how their language, their level of involvement in play, their support of children to communicate and resolve conflict and how the organisation and environment impacts learning, relationships and interactions.

These insights should be used to inform the development of plans for children’s learning and development, both as individuals and groups of children. The focus should be on learning and outcomes rather than activities and resources.

Being a reflective practitioner means embracing multiple perspectives, your own unique approach and process as well as considering what might need to change. This process of reflecting on actions, intentionality, programs and children’s learning is one that educators engage in every day.

The approved learning frameworks provide some questions to reflect on: (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11):

  • What are my understandings of each child?
  • What theories, philosophies and understandings shape and assist my work?
  • Are there other theories or knowledge that could help me to understand better what I have experienced?

A holistic approach

It is important to reflect on the learning across all aspects of the program including routines, transitions, planned and spontaneous play and leisure experiences. Children’s learning is constant and happening everywhere and it is up to educators to reflect on how time, resources and access to learning environments is facilitating sustained shared thinking.

Who should be involved?

Everyone! Critically reflecting on children’s learning involves all educators talking, questioning, challenging and affirming each other. Two key questions to consider here might be:

  • Are planned experiences reflective of children’s knowledge, interests and identity?
  • Are experiences, environments and interactions supporting children’s learning and development across the learning outcomes?

Children and families are important participants in the reflection process, from setting goals to analysing and sharing the learning from the program and informing the direction of group and individual learning. Community expectations and context are relevant considerations to inform curriculum decision making.

How do we reflect and what should be recorded?

While there is no legislative requirement for educators’ reflections to be documented, it is a useful way for services to track and show how critical reflection influences their practice and contributes to continuous improvement and the cycle of planning.

The emphasis is on the process of critical reflection, not the product, so there is evidence the program is informed by these reflections. Children can be active participants in critical reflection, and in documenting their learning progress. Documenting this reflection can be completed in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in the minutes of team meetings.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Supporting reflective practice

The educational leader plays a role in developing and supporting a culture of reflection by :

  • leading and being part of reflective discussions
  • mentoring other educators
  • discussing routines
  • observing children and educator interactions
  • talking to families
  • working with other education and care professionals
  • considering how the program can be linked to the community
  • establishing effective systems across the service.

Anne Stonehouse suggests the use of concise questions when reflecting on children’s learning and analysing information to focus on the process of their actions rather than the product:

  • What is this child learning?
  • What does this child know or understand?
  • What level is the learning? For example, emerging, beginning, practicing, consolidating, exploratory or mastery.
  • What learning dispositions are evident? For example, persistence, confidence, resourcefulness, curiosity or problem solving.

Assessment and rating

In terms of assessment and rating, a crucial factor in assessing quality practice relates to educators’ understandings of the process and the purpose of critical reflection as opposed to gathering evidence.

During an assessment, the authorised officer might:

  • observe educators having discussions with team members, children and families reflecting on how the program is supporting children’s learning in groups and as individuals
  • discuss how educators make decisions on the program and the process for considering the effectiveness of the program
  • sight documentation of decisions, how and why they came about, information in policies, parent information and staff induction that explains the process of how reflection guides the program.

Questions for further reflection:

The Educators’ Guide to My Time, Our Place describes the process of self-reflection as:

  • Deconstructing practice – What happens?
  • Confronting practice – What works well? What is challenging?
  • Theorising about why – What literature/research/experience helps you to understand this?
  • Thinking otherwise – What do you need to change? What is the first step?

These questions may prompt a robust discussion on what is working and how well practice aligns with philosophy and ethics, as well as creating a positive culture and professional learning community.

Further reading and resources

Cartmel, J. – ‘Techniques for Facilitating Reflection’, Reflections (43): 12-13.

Early Childhood Australia – Thinking about Practice: Working with the Early Years Learning Framework

FUSE – Module 1 – An Introduction to the Victorian Framework and Reflective Practice

Queensland Studies Authority – Reflecting on my teaching practices

Stonehouse, A. – ‘Assessing children’s learning—work in progress! (Part 1)’, NQS PLP eNewsletter (73).

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Part 1

During June/July, We Hear You will be featuring a special three-part series exploring critical reflection – ‘Uncovering the layers of reflective practice’.

In the first instalment, we explore meaningful self-reflection, what this looks like in practice and the importance of the process not the product.  

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

We know being reflective educators allows for greater self-awareness, drives continuous improvement, improved outcomes for children and families, as well as being a feature of high quality education and care. We also acknowledge a culture of learning, reflection and continuous improvement are driven by effective leaders. A culture of learning is fostered in an organisation that empowers educators, promotes openness and trust, and reflects a space where people feel heard and valued.

Catherine Lee, the Director and Nominated Supervisor at The Point Preschool, shares her thoughts on critical reflection.

Reflecting

We often hear educators ask ‘What am I supposed to be reflecting on?’ There are a range of professional standards educators can draw on to analyse their practice:

Considering the prompt questions from the approved learning frameworks can be useful tools to prompt more analytical thinking (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 13; Framework for School Age Care, p. 11). A great starting point or points to revisit regularly include:

  • What questions do I have about my work?
  • What am I challenged by?
  • What am I curious about?
  • What am I confronted by?

One way of ensuring meaningful self-reflection could be to discuss issues educators have been considering during performance review processes, opening up professional conversations at team meetings, and facilitating educators to affirm and challenge each other as a ‘critical friend’. Research by the University of Melbourne identifies key factors for supporting educators to critically reflect, allowing for deep reflection of their practice:

  • guidance and structure to allow for critical reflection and change
  • effective mentoring for additional resources and perspectives
  • adequate time and space
  • professional development opportunities.

Documenting

Another common question is ‘what do I need to record or document?’ When it comes to reflective practice, the most important aspect is that it is about ‘process not product’. It is about being able to articulate why and how you made decisions and changes. Documenting key decisions may occur in a variety of ways – in the program, in a reflective journal or diary, or in minutes of team meetings.

Documenting in this way has the potential to promote in educators a sense of responsibility and accountability for their self-reflection and professional development. At this level, you may prefer to keep your reflections private.

Effective communication skills are crucial to creating a positive culture of learning. As part of the self-reflection process, you may identify further learning and professional development is needed. This could be added to your individual development plans. However, not all learning needs to be formal, such as attending a workshop. There may be opportunities to build on people’s strengths through mentoring, sharing professional journals or by accessing learning online.

Questions for further reflection:

  • What opportunities are available for educators to reflect on their practice?
  • What opportunities are created for educators to discuss and identify achievements, issues, challenges?
  • How does self-reflection inform individual development plans?

 

Read the complete series:

Uncovering the layers of reflective practice: Introduction

Part 1: Self-reflection – The key to growth

Part 2: Reflection on teaching and learning

Part 3: Reflection to inform continuous improvement

How will the approved learning frameworks guide your journey in 2017?

What is your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks? How do they inform your practice, programs and interactions? This month on We Hear You, we reflect on the frameworks that will guide you and your service through the coming year.

we-hear-you-blog-approved-frameworks

At this time of year, we are all thinking forward – planning for the coming months, developing programs and experiences for children and ways to collaborate with families and communities.

It is also an opportunity to take a moment to look back and reflect on your personal and service journey with the approved learning frameworks. When Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework and My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care were first launched in 2009 and 2011 respectively, the intent was to guide educator practice, critical reflection, decision making and scaffold understanding, much like the way the framework for a building provides the strength and integrity of the structure.

The Framework forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all early childhood settings experience quality teaching and learning… (and) has been designed for use by early childhood educators working in partnership with families, children’s first and most influential educators. (Early Years Learning Framework, p. 5)

The Framework… forms the foundation for ensuring that children in all school age care settings engage in quality experiences for rich learning, personal development and citizenship opportunities. (Framework for School Age Care, p. 3)

The frameworks are built on a foundation of contemporary research that identifies the benefits of high quality education in the early years, with play and leisure based programs most suited to the way young children learn. One of our responsibilities under professional standards such as Early Childhood Australia’s Code of Ethics is the need for education and care professionals to be advocates for young children within the broader community.

belongingandbecoming

belonging_page10

It may be timely to consider the ways your service is collaborating with families and communities to share the research and contemporary thinking outlined in the approved learning frameworks.

Both frameworks include many layers of rich and meaningful ideas, and while most educators and leaders are familiar with the five learning outcomes, the principles and practices that underpin these should continually shape our practice, programs, policies and interactions.

As you reflect individually and as a team, you might consider the daily influence of the frameworks’:

  • principles that promote respect, meaningful relationships and partnerships, equity, diversity and continuous learning
  • practices that support educators to implement quality programs and identify broad lifelong outcomes for children.

Taking the time to reflect on the way you are engaging with all aspects of the frameworks could also help you explore how they contribute to quality improvement.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Quality Area 1 – Educational program and practice

ACECQA – Occasional Paper 1 – Educational program and practice

Early Childhood Resource Hub – Introduction to Quality Area 1

Bush Kinder

Rhonda Livingstone, ACECQA’s National Education Leader, speaks with Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at Berrimba Child Care Centre in Echuca, Victoria about their bush kinder program.

bush-kinder-hero

Every Monday at Berrimba Child Care Centre, children aged three and above are taken into the bush for a three hour program of exploring and activities. These visits provide opportunities for children to connect to the land, live their culture and explore nature, as well as scientific and maths concepts.

Tina Thompson, Koori Preschool Assistant at the service, says the program fits well under the Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework by linking with the five learning outcomes identified.

Tina spoke to me about the smoking and Welcome to Country (in language) ceremonies that educators and children collaboratively participate in to recognise the traditional owners and to cleanse their spirits. She talked about the valuable opportunities for children as they play and explore in the bush, giving time to leave behind any troubles they may be experiencing. Tina explained how “children need to know their culture, identity and be strong and proud, knowing and valuing their rich culture”.

Science is a feature of these excursions into the bush with lots of discussion about the natural creations. For example, children were fascinated with the drying mud; Tina laughingly reported that children, at first, thought it was chocolate. The children talked and theorised about where the water goes. “It is really important to get our culture back and being out in bush kinder is a great way to connect with the ancestors and to thank Mother Nature for all the beauty around us,” said Tina.

img_0293An example of an effective learning experience occurred when children at the service learned how to make a canoe under the guidance of Uncle Rick, an esteemed Aboriginal elder and strong male role model in the community. Educators take iPads to record the rich learnings, and share these with families and others in the community. “Children are learning about sustainability. Aboriginal people for generations have only taken what they needed; it is important for children to learn to respect and care for nature and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors,” she added.

Last year, the children made a humpy (a shelter) in this beautiful natural environment. The educators were available to help and guide but the initiative, ideas and problem solving came from the children. “They are amazing,” Tina noted, explaining how they cooperatively gathered the sticks and worked out how to build it so it would stay up. During each visit, they would add to the structure, help each other, and play in and use it in a variety of ways, allowing each other space to explore, work and play.

“We might turn over a log and study the bugs, but we don’t take them away,” she said. “We talk about our totems and why we don’t eat our totem. We don’t take the bugs, insects, stones, sticks or anything we find, just study them and marvel in the beauty of nature.”

“We have a lot of strong leaders in our community and children in our service are showing skills that will make them great community leaders of the future, leaders who can advocate and fight for the needs and rights of our people. The children are teaching their parents and family members.”

The identified benefits of the bush kinder include:

  • increasing evidence that children’s inner wellbeing is benefitted by being outdoors as the natural environment enhances their health, learning and behaviour by supporting personal and social development, as well as physical and mental health
  • the sense of calm and restoration gained from spending time in the bush
  • providing children with a connection while they are young, and the hope they will build a sense of belonging and respect for the country as they grow.

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Back at the service, educators can regularly be observed putting ochre (traditional Aboriginal body paint) on the young children and babies, and singing songs in language and dancing along. Tina pays respect to her colleagues Leona Cooper (jokingly called Boss Lady) and Joyce Ward, two women strong in their culture and relentless advocates for their families and community. These women work long and hard to ensure no child falls through the cracks and to advocate for these opportunities to continue to enrich the lives of children in the Echuca community.

To finish, Tina draws my attention to a quote from Jenny Beer (from the Aboriginal language group Wergaia):

“…if we don’t learn our language, then our kids, in future generations will be like us, looking for our identity, going through that identity crisis.”

Further reading and resources

Nyernila – Listen continuously: Aboriginal creation stories of Victoria

Forever Learning – A digital story from Berrimba Child Care Centre

Emergent Curriculum… doesn’t mean no need to plan


ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

Emergent curriculum is a method of planning and curriculum decision making used readily across the sector. It describes curriculum that is responsive to children’s interests, and is meaningful, relevant and engaging for each child.

Yet, the pedagogical intentions of the approach are often misunderstood or misrepresented. A current myth is that planning isn’t required and programs emerge solely from children’s interests. This is not the intention of the emergent curriculum.

Planning for children’s learning

Emergent curriculum:

  • has a strong theoretical background
  • is inquiry and play-based
  • is responsive to children’s interests, strengths and aspirations.

This approach allows educators to respond to observations of children, build upon their strengths and scaffold their learning. It requires professional knowledge, planning for learning, and a focus on progressing each child’s learning and development towards the learning outcomes.

Educators working within the emergent curriculum, endeavour to build on children’s prior learning and current interests, and provoke new ideas and learning opportunities that challenge and extend children’s existing understandings about the world.

Planned learning programs are flexible and responsive to the spontaneous and emerging interests of children and serve to seize key ‘teachable moments’.

Informing decision making

Emergent curriculum can initially come from a range of sources including:

  • children’s interests and current knowledge
  • educators’ interests
  • families
  • the physical environment
  • the social environment
  • values held in the education and care context (school, community, cultural group).

Elizabeth Jones is an American educator who has written widely on emergent based curriculum and suggests:

“We are the stage directors; curriculum is the teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything emerges simply from the child. The children’s ideas are an important source of the curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives” (Jones and Nimmo 1994, p.5).

Emergent curriculum identifies the need to include child led learning, coupled with educator-supported learning opportunities. Curriculum is viewed as a ‘child-initiated and educator framed’ process, a negotiated and co-constructed process in which educators and children have a voice.

Intentional teaching

Emergent curriculum is not an unplanned process but very much intentional in its nature. Intentional teaching and curriculum decision making are often seen as at odds with a child-centred, play based approach. This is another myth to debunk.

Intentional teaching can be responsive to both children and the learning outcomes identified in the approved learning frameworks.

The term ‘intentional teaching’ is not used to describe a formal or structured approach to teaching. It is used to describe teaching that is purposeful, thoughtful and deliberate.

When we look at the practice of intentional teaching through this lens, we can see how it compliments rather than contradicts the emergent approach to curriculum decision making. Intentional teaching offers a rich opportunity to actively promote children’s learning and knowledge building.

Approved learning frameworks

The approved learning frameworks and National Quality Standard do not prescribe how educators should plan for children’s learning, as the context and setting of the service will guide each service’s approach. Services may use a variety of approaches, such as emergent curriculum, to inform their curriculum decision making.

When planning it is important to consider the key elements of the approved learning frameworks, including the belonging, being and becoming, principles, practices and learning outcomes (Early Years Learning Framework, p.10 Framework for School Age Care p.9).

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Reflective questions

Use the following questions to prompt further professional discussion at your service.

– How does this information fit with your view of emergent curriculum?
– How do you incorporate intentional teaching while planning from children’s ideas or interests?
– How do you use children’s voices to promote the learning outcomes?
– How will you use the approved learning frameworks to strengthen your pedagogical beliefs and develop a spirit of enquiry about what you do and why?

See also Early Years Learning Framework, p.38

Further reading and resources
Understanding emergent curriculum in practice
Thinking Big Extending Emergent Curriculum Projects
Educators’ Guide: My Time Our Place
Educators’ Guide: Early Years Learning Framework

Practical strategies for reviewing, planning and improving team performance

ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.

William Shakespeare said ‘we know what we are but not what we may be’. One of the many roles of leaders is to assist team members to realise, and reach their full potential.

Assessment and rating data shows that element 7.2.2 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) is among the top five most challenging to meet, requiring that ‘the performance of educators, coordinators and staff members is evaluated and individual development plans are in place to support performance improvement’.

Professional development supports educators in their work to provide quality outcomes for children and families. We know when education and care services establish and maintain a culture of ongoing reflection and self-review, team members are more likely to feel challenged and motivated, and experience job satisfaction (Early Years Learning Framework p.13, Framework for School Age Care p. 12).

The Guide to the National Quality Standard refers to a cyclical process for performance review and improvement, but doesn’t set specific guidelines around timing or how the process should work in practice. Services should establish a process that works best for their staff and management structure. The process should be one that identifies staff members’ strengths and assesses and enhances staff performance.

Strategies

When implementing a performance review system, (including Professional Development Plans for each team member) a self-assessment tool developed by the Professional Support Coordinators Alliance is a useful resource. The tool can be used to establish goals and identify areas for professional development.

When education and care professionals engage in self-assessment with managers, they’re able to build on strengths, identify areas they would like to develop and celebrate the successes and contributions of all team members. Whatever system is used, it’s important the purpose is communicated clearly to staff and they feel empowered and supported in the process.

Another approach to self-assessment might be regular one-on-one catch ups to discuss current achievements and challenges. Meeting regularly ensures the team is supported on an ongoing basis and through periods of change. This is especially helpful when teams consist of casual or short term members. It can also reduce the sometimes onerous task of undertaking the process annually.

Additional strategies to self-assessment can be found in our previous article on professional development planning, as well as the Gowrie Tasmania fact sheetLeadership in Early Childhood Education and Care Services.

Quality Improvement Plan

Reviewing your current process for planning, supporting and improving team performance is important and can form part of your Quality Improvement Plan. How does the team feel about the process? Are there opportunities to share achievements? How do other services approach professional development? These are some questions you might like consider when reviewing your service’s plan.